US starts pulling its gear out of Syria

The Modesto Bee - - Nation & World - BY ROBERT BURNS

The U.S. mil­i­tary said Fri­day it has started pulling equip­ment, but not troops, out of Syria as a first step in meet­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­mand for a com­plete mil­i­tary with­drawal. The an­nounce­ment fu­eled con­cern about how quickly the U.S. will aban­don its Kur­dish al­lies, amid con­tra­dic­tory state­ments re­cently by ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials on an exit timetable.

The with­drawal be­gan with ship­ments of mil­i­tary equip­ment, U.S. de­fense of­fi­cials said. But in com­ing weeks, the con­tin­gent of about 2,000 troops is ex­pected to de­part even as the White House vows to keep pres­sure on the Is­lamic State group. Once the troops are gone, the U.S. will have ended three years of or­ga­niz­ing, arm­ing, ad­vis­ing and pro­vid­ing air cover for Syr­ian, Kur­dish and Arab fighters in an open-ended cam­paign de­vised by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to deal the IS group a last­ing de­feat.

Uncer­tainty over the tim­ing and terms of the Syria pull­out have raised ques­tions about the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s broader strat­egy for fight­ing Is­lamic ex­trem­ism, in­clud­ing Trump’s stated in­ten­tion to re­duce U.S. forces in Afghanistan this sum­mer.

U.S. airstrikes against IS in Syria be­gan in Septem­ber 2014, and ground troops moved in the fol­low­ing year in small num­bers.

The U.S. mil­i­tary has a lim­ited net­work of bases in­side Syria. Troops work mostly out of small camps in re­mote parts of the coun­try’s north­east. Also, U.S. troops are among 200 to 300 coali­tion troops at a gar­ri­son in south­ern Syria known as al-Tanf, where they train and ac­com­pany lo­cal Syr­ian op­po­si­tion forces on pa­trols to counter the IS group. Al-Tanf is on a vi­tal road link­ing Ira­ni­an­backed forces from Tehran all the way to south­ern Le­banon – and Is­rael’s doorstep.

Trump’s de­ci­sion to leave Syria, which he ini­tially said would be rapid but later slowed down, shocked U.S. al­lies and an­gered the Kurds in Syria, who are vul­ner­a­ble to at­tack by Tur­key. It also prompted the res­ig­na­tion of De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and drew crit­i­cism in Congress. Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Is­land Demo­crat, called the de­ci­sion a “be­trayal of our Kur­dish part­ners.”

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